(Here’s the extended version of this morning’s story on Tom Lemming and Hawaii’s top football prospects.)
Just about every year, Tom Lemming makes his way to the islands from Chicago.
And just about every year, the college football recruiting guru is amazed by what he sees.
On Sunday at Kapolei High School, Lemming was all smiles once again.
“I like to come here almost every year because it’s such a great state for football talent,” said Lemming, who started coming to Oahu in 1986 at the invitation of former coach Skip Akina. “There’s guys here that if they lived in Chicago or L.A., they would almost certainly be All-Americans. I’d say there are four or five guys who definitely should be All-Americans.”
Talent at the elite level in Hawaii, Lemming said, might have been highlighted by the emergence of Manti Te‘o (Notre Dame) a few years back. But he points to Saint Louis offensive lineman Reeve Koehler and Punahou linebacker Isaac Savaiinaea as two current players who are among the best nationally.
Koehler was one of the 200-pound-plus athletes to run in the 6-x-67 relay at the Punahou Relays the day before. He might be one of the faster offensive linemen in the state, as well as one of the strongest.
“Reeve Koehler has improved every year. He’s one of the best linemen in the country,” Lemming said. “Isaac is fantastic, one of the better linebackers in the entire country.
“Manti sort of paved the road at Punahou for linebackers. He’s one of the players I’m considering for the Butkus Award. He’s that good.”
Among those who visited with Lemming on Sunday were players from as far away as Lahainaluna and as nearby as Moanalua. Defensive lineman Scott Pagano (6-3, 263) is another standout attracting more attention. Elite running backs Tyler Taumua (Farrington) and Aofaga Wily (Kahuku) were also there.
Lemming snapped photos of the group. He had already seen some, like Koehler and Savaiinaea, on video. Talking with them face to face, Lemming noted, makes all the difference.
“It’s not only having great size, it’s about heart. When I meet someone, I’ll see how much passion they have for football. If the heart isn’t into it, they won’t do well no matter what,” he said.
The longtime high school football recruiting guru started coming to Oahu in 1986, invited by Skip Akina to get an up-close look at athletes at the hub of Polynesia.
“We were watching footage on 16 millimeter back then. Skip flew me out here to see the Skip Akina Classic,” Lemming recalled on a cloudy afternoon at Kapolei High School’s lush field.
Canton Kaumatule, a 6-foot-8 freshman from Punahou, already has Lemming’s attention.
“He’s already an All-American. He looks like he’s ready for Division I ball now,” he said.
For other attendees, like Kapolei defensive tackle Andrew Julius (6-2, 285), it was an all-new experience.
“It was a lot more people than I expected,” said Julius, who has a 3.4 grade-point average and has already taken the SAT and ACT. “Now our pictures are going to be all around the nation and that’s an honor, coming from Hawaii. It’s been non-stop work, progressing as a team. My goal is to play in the all-star game this year and hopefully a mainland bowl.”
Preparing for college requires planning, Lemming added, for athletes and coaches alike.
“With the Internet, you’re getting tons of information. The negative is that there’s a lot of misinformation that the coaches have to decipher,” he said. “The key (for players) is to go the right combines. Go to the colleges on junior days when they have the one-day practices. Save your energy up for them so you can actually earn scholarships. If you’re a junior going into senior year, that’s the key.”
He recommends honest assessments.
“I’m aware of who the top guys are after their sophomore year. If you don’t have the size, the colleges aren’t going to look at you. If you have super production over the years, that’s what I look for. Never give up your dream of being Division I, but you’ve got to cover yourself. Companies like PIAA can help,” he said, referring to Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance, the non-profit organization that coordinated yesterday’s event.
“Division II schools do give financial aid and the No. 1 priority should be getting a college education. Division I schools can send out 2,000 letters, but they only have 25 scholarships. By July 1, if you don’t have D-I offers, the best thing is to start looking at D-II schools,” said Lemming, who hosts an online talk show.
“I had Don Beebe on my show, played at Chapman State, a D-III school, he was boxing shelves at a store. He found out about a scout visiting at his school. He ran a 4.3 (in the 40-yard dash) and wound up having a 12-year NFL career,” Lemming said.